It’s no secret that I’m a fan of eating bizarre foods, and I’ll go out of my way to eat something just to say that I’ve had a taste of the weird. I’ve eaten strange stuff like crickets here in Texas, snake meat / venom / blood in Taiwan, and donkey in China. I ate blood sausage and beaver carpaccio in Argentina, and turtle in Cambodia. While I’m not quite as adventurous (or rich) as Andrew Zimmerman, I can hold my own when it comes to eating Bizarre Foods.
Most savvy Austinites know where to find Mexican bizarre foods like menudo, beef tongue, and deep fried pork intestines (check out El Taquito) so I’ll skip over those and focus on weird Asian delights, where I have some expertise.
While this isn’t a complete list of Asian delicacies – you probably can’t easily find any stinky fermented tofu, giant fish eyeballs, duck tongue, or scorpion (all things I’ve had) here in Austin – here’s a list of some crazy Asian foods from Austin restaurants that you probably haven’t had before.
Silk Worms (Beon degi) at Together Restaurant, Little Tokyo, and Han Yang Market
This Korean delicacy consists of stir fried silk worm pupae mixed with assorted veggies (pictured in the first photo of this post). You can also buy these in can form at the Han Yang market (ironically? in the SPAM aisle) on Lamar Blvd next to Austin Karaoke. These probably aren’t for the amateur bizarre food eater because they kind of explode in your mouth with juiciness. Supposedly they are much better in Korea where they are made fresh instead of from a can.
Pig Ears at Rice Bowl Cafe
These gelatinous yet firm delicacies are boiled then pickled with vinegar and seasoned with soy sauce. They are quite delicious and are a pretty accessible bizarre food, as far as taste goes. They are meaty in flavor, and yet, the texture is slightly off putting for some non-adventurous eaters. Rice Bowl Cafe serves up other slightly weird, tasty Taiwanese Treats such as pork knuckle, which is a bone in pig leg full of sinewy goodness.
Dimsum Chicken Feet @ Fortune & Shanghai
I consider chicken feet to be gateway drug of bizarre Asian foods. It’s easy to find at any dimsum joint around town and it doesn’t taste that weird. Again though, it does have that gelatinous texture that some find odd, a lot of bones, and it does sort of look like your food is giving your mouth a high five… errr high four.
Thousand Year Egg – MT Market or in rice porridge at dimsum
Thousand year egg is a black, fermented, slightly stinky egg that has been soaking in lime for months at a time. Although it doesn’t look that great, it is absolutely delicious. As with many other delicacies in this list, it does have an interesting jello-like consistency. These eggs can be eaten as is, or mixed in a rice porridge that you can get at any dimsum restaurant in Austin (see the picture of Fortune above in the left corner). Also called “century eggs“, these tasty treats have been around for more than a thousand years in Chinese cuisine.
Sea Squirts at ChoSun Galbi and Han Yang Market
Sea Squirts can be found frozen at the Han Yang market on North Lamar Blvd or in a prepared dish at Cho Sun Galbi called Agujjim, which is a saucy, slightly spicy bean sprout dish. Sea squirt is kind of bizarre – I would give it a 7 out of 10 on the weirdness scale. They are tough on the outside, but they pop in your mouth when you bite into them, suddenly sending a brine-y mixture of flavor juice into your mouth – sort of like fish eyeballs. You might have seen sea squirts in science class as a kid, they are a sac like filter feeder. According to Wikipedia, they are also called “sea pineapple” presumably so they sound a bit more edible.
Blood cake + intestines @ Mandarin House
Perhaps the stinkiest bizarre food on this list, the stewed pork Blood Cake with intestine dish at Mandarin House is borderline edible even for me. It’s hard for chefs to get rid of that distinctive intestine “gaminess” – and I’m not a big fan of it. Congealed blood cake comes from a pig and looks kind of like black tofu that tastes a bit like marrow. If you want blood cake without the intestine nastiness, order the hot and sour soup at Mandarin House on North Lamar.
Jelly Fish – Pao’s Mandarin House
Chinese people eat jellyfish that has been brined and mixed with vinegar. A slightly acquired taste, but you probably wouldn’t know it’s jellyfish unless someone told you. It kind of just looks and tastes like seasoned, pickled, crunchy radish. I would give this a 4 out of 10 on the weirdness scale in regards to taste. You do get a lot of bang for your buck on this one, as it does sound quite exotic to say you’ve eaten jellyfish. You most likely have to request a Chinese menu at Pao’s to find this dish.
Beef Tendons – Pao’s Mandarin House
Beef tendon is connective tissue that isn’t considered very edible by everyone. This dish is cooked then chilled and served cold with spicy oil drizzled over it. I think it’s only available on the semi-secret Chinese Menu at Pao’s. It tastes pretty much like beef, but has a firm jelly texture to it like so many other things on this list. I would recommend this as a slightly less weird bizarre food.
Beef Tripe – any Vietnamese Pho Restaurant or some Dimsum restaurants
Get the combination pho with everything in it to get a taste of tripe, or cow stomach. Tripe is from the Omassum stomach of the cow, which is generally less stinky than the honeycomb stomach found in menudo. Tripe is available at some Dimsum restaurants, but it’s a little bit less popular than other dishes. While I don’t guarantee you will find it there, I’ve seen it served at Shanghai before.
Weird offal awesomeness – My Thanh MT Supermarket
Just walk through the aisles near the meat counter for a culinary adventure. If you are a promoter of nose to tail eating, this is the place for you. While I’m a big fan of exploring supermarkets, there’s some stuff that I won’t even touch at MT such as rectum, kidneys, and various animal brains, but it’s always fun just to stroll through and window shop.
I hope you learned something new by reading this post, and are now inspired to try some of the bizarre foods in Austin on this list.